February 29, 2016 - 6:00 AM
HALIFAX - An airline passenger advocate says Canada should look at establishing seat-size standards for commercial airlines.
Gabor Lukacs says an attempt by American Sen. Charles Schumer to require the U.S. government to establish seat-size standards is something that should be done in Canada.
Lukacs said such standards are needed on Canadian flights, as cramming too many people onto a plane poses safety risks.
"It's a huge safety issue," said Lukacs from Halifax on Sunday. "If you cram too many passengers in too small of a space, then some people will end up not being able to evacuate the plane in the same amount of time (during an emergency)."
Lukacs said overcrowding planes also infringes on passenger comfort, especially on lengthy flights.
"It can be very problematic," he said. "There's also the issue of air rage. Because seats are so close, you have people who use things like stoppers from allowing the seat in front on them to recline. It creates tension between two strangers... and even a small amount of tension can spark a fist fight."
Lukacs said creating standards that apply to all commercial airlines would bring Canada in line with other jurisdictions, such as the European Union.
"In terms of air passenger rights, we are very much behind the rest of the world," said Lukacs.
Transport Canada did not immediately return a request for comment Sunday.
The U.S. also does not have federal limits on how close an airline's row of seats can be or how wide an airline's seat must be.
Schumer, a New York Democrat, says he will add an amendment to a bill that is pending before Congress that would require the American Federal Aviation Administration to set the seat-size guidelines. A vote is expected in March.
Schumer said airlines have been slowly cutting down legroom and seat width.
"They're like sardines," Schumer said of airplane passengers. "It's no secret that airlines are looking for more ways to cut costs, but they shouldn't be cutting inches of legroom and seat width in the process ... It's time for the FAA to step up and stop this deep-seated problem from continuing."
Schumer said seat pitch, the distance between a point on an airline seat and the same spot on the seat in front of it, has dropped from 35 inches in the 1970s to a current average of closer to 31 inches, and seat width has gone from 18.5 inches to about 16.5 inches.
He argues that the requirement is needed to stop airlines from shrinking those numbers even further.
An FAA spokesman said agency officials "look forward to reviewing" Schumer's proposal.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group representing an array of U.S. carriers, said it believes the government's role is to determine a seat size that is safe, but opposes the proposed regulation.
"We believe the government should not regulate, but instead market forces, which reflect consumer decisions and competition should determine what is offered," spokeswoman Jean Medina said. "As with any commercial product or service, customers vote every day with their wallet."
— With files from The Associated Press
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016